For a franchise that started as a series of British credit card ads, Johnny English has had a pretty charmed life. With three installments, the franchise has had a stealthy legacy of being a low-key money maker for Universal. And from a quality perspective, the series had only gotten better with time. However, for the latest film, Johnny English Strikes Again, the only explanation for its existence is brand recognition, as this third act is a regressive let-down, scoring only minor laughs.
After a cyber-attack exposes MI7’s entire agent roster, the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) brings England’s clumsiest super spy, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) out of retirement. Tasked to investigate the recent digital terror attacks continuing to plague the country, English and his trusty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) will travel Europe to suss out the origin of these attacks, and get into some comic mischief along the way.
Johnny English Strikes Again feels like a film that should have happened a long time ago, preferably before 2011’s Johnny English Reborn took the series to a higher level of comedy and action. Seeing this third adventure after a seven year gap, and a better sequel, feels like a regression to the first film’s slight charms. In fact, some of the same beats from that first film are recycled in this threequel, making its existence even more befuddling. Again, were this to be the first sequel out of the gate, it might be a little more excusable. But to see Johnny mix up the crucial video to prove that he’s not a raving maniac yet again just doesn’t have the same punch when we’ve seen him actually grow past that point as a spy.
Come to think of it, the plot to Johnny English Strikes Again feels like a clumsy grab-bag of Skyfall and Spectre’s villainous plots, thrown together with some comedic duct tape and very little fleshing out. With the massive data breach of the former, and the threat of data consolidation and manipulation of the latter both present in this film, there could have been a decent, bare bones plot in place to help keep this film’s serious bits moving along in the background.
While the formal plot to the film is a mess, and there’s still some things that don’t work about its comedy — particularly the script’s total waste of Emma Thompson’s talents in a reductive, alcoholic parody of Theresa May — Rowan Atkinson’s chops still get some time to shine. In fact, if there was any movie to make you thankful for Atkinson’s abilities as a comedian, it has to be Johnny English Strikes Again.
Through his trademark blend of physical comedy, absolutely deadpan awkwardness, and absurd levels of unawareness, Rowan Atkinson’s character maintains the freshness that he’s always had since frame one. And while the scripted material does fail the cast assembled to portray it, at the very least there is an air of fun being had. Even though Emma Thompson’s Prime Minister is a junk drawer of cliches, Thompson herself is still funny when the script allows her to be, making the audience wish that they could see more of her comedic talents in a better film.
If you’re a Johnny English fan, then Johnny English Strikes Again will score some easy points with you, even though it still comes up short in the franchise’s total canon. There’s certainly enough Rowan Atkinson magic that helps carry this almost hour and a half movie to the finish line. But if you’re uninitiated, or aren’t a particular patron of this character’s antics, you’re going to want to skip this one completely. While this series is still a minor box office win, Johnny English Strikes Again is indeed catering to a certain faction of fans, with very little interest of winning any new ones in its execution.